Call Me Crazy: Mental Health In The Black Community

July is National Minority Mental Health Month.

Being truly “woke” includes knowing the effects of black awareness in regards to mental health within the black community. Being a woke black person means being aware that some conversations need to wait for a better time. The time for this conversation is now.

When I spoke with my friend about this issue she asked, “Why isn’t sexual abuse, molestation and domestic violence being dealt with in some black homes? Instead of brushing shit under the rug and allowing it to become a family secret, lets address the issue and get the victims some help!” That’s when I realized that this conversation is long overdue.

There are two things that are seen as “taboo” in the black community: Homosexuality and Mental Health. With that being said, before I go any deeper, I have to give a shoutout to the mentally ill children in the black community who can’t receive treatment because they’re parents don’t believe in mental illnesses, shoutout to the mentally ill black girls who are struggling with anxiety and being told that they’re crazy. Shoutouts and prayers to all of you. Mental health in the black community has been ignored by so many people, for so long, that it needs to be considered a National Health Crisis- especially now with so many of us begging for our lives to matter. The black community often shuns the need for psychological intervention and that is proving to be detrimental. Yes, psychology originated in Africa and according to numerous black scholars, it has roots in spirituality. But along with the spirituality, comes the need for assessment.

As a black woman, being born and raised in a strong, Christian based African-American family, mental health has always been written off as someone simply being “crazy”. If you were stressed, “down & out”, upset, couldn’t sleep, etc, you were simply told to “pray about it” and “get right with the Lord”. Of course I understand where my family was coming from with faith being the absolute core of my personal being, but ignoring the signs of mental illnesses is extremely dangerous. NEWSFLASH: Mental Illness is real!

I’ve been through a lot of mental issues dealing with family/personal/interpersonal relationship issues since the age of 11. A lot times, those issues still bother me. I didn’t tell anyone, especially my family, that I was hurting. Now that I’m older, I realize that we ALL hurt and we ALL deserve and need someone to talk to. Please, don’t let what your family feeds into you, inhibit you from seeking help. Perhaps you can’t afford extensive psychological services. If and when that’s the case, try to find local community clinics or counselors. They’re here and they’re in place to help. I am happy to say that my mother is very supportive of my circumstances. When I was finally bold enough to let her know what I was going through, she was open, receptive and so understanding. Unfortunately, that’s not the reality for most African Americans suffering in silence. There’s the lack of treatment, the lack of adequate health insurance, the fear of shame & embarrassment, the lack of knowledge, and the refusal to get help.

I was scrolling through tumblr, looking for posts on Mental Illness in regards to the black community, when I came across this post by a young, fed up white girl:

im sick of this “black girls/boys/homosexuals with mental illnesses need more support” because regardless of your race or gender or age or whatever, mental illness can affect anyone and everyone suffering deserves equal treatment

I responded to her post:

“Mental health & homosexuality are the top 2 most taboo subjects in black community. You are SHUNNED when you express concern about having any form of a mental illness. Of course mental illness transcends race, gender and age but as a community, we are suffering in silence. POC are suffering in silence. I’m telling you: until you have to live with the stigma of having this be your day-to-day reality, there’s nothing you can say about the topic. We need “more” support, because we simply aren’t getting any.”

My heart was particularly saddened last November when 37 year old Tanisha Anderson was killed by police. She was living with Schizophrenia/Bipolar Disorder. Tanisha is said to have been resisting arrest after a family member called the cops during an altercation at their family home. She was slammed onto the pavement outside of her family’s home. The reporting officer had placed his knee on Tanisha Anderson’s back and handcuffed her. After kicking for quite some time, Tanisha appeared to “go limp” and the struggled that had promptly ensued, was soon over. She never opened her eyes or spoke another word. Tanisha was taking medications to treat schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

tanesha-andersonjpg-bbe380313139c379
Tanisha Anderson

Joell Anderson, Tanisha’s brother, asked officers to help his unconscious sister. However, they refused to touch the young woman until a female officer called to the scene, arrived. Anderson recalls his sister’s sundress being lifted above her waist when the officer took her down. He used his jacket to cover her naked lower body. The Anderson family watched Tanisha Anderson lie on the ground for about 20 minutes until an ambulance arrived.

Black women’s lives are already considered to be worthless. A black woman with a mental illness is completely undesirable. There are high rates of mental illness (specifically depression) in black women with drastically low rates of treatment. But what are we going to do about this? We have to save, protect and educate our community. It is up to us to protect our mentally ill family members from police. This brings about the stories of Jason HarrisonEbony Wilkerson, and even Chris Brown amongst many, many others. Our people are suffering.

Black women have eating disorders. Black men have schizophrenia. Black children have depression. Black people have mental illnesses. No, they’re not crazy. Yes, their lives matter. Yes, they deserve equal and fair treatment.

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